Ashley Sutton, 38, is the guy behind Iron Fairies, Clouds, Fat Gut’z and Mr. Jones’ Orphanage; not to mention a growing number of branches and commissioned designs, including a soon-to-open book shop, throughout Bangkok. He talks to BK about his frantic creative drive, his hatred for nightlife and his love for the open sea.
I was born in Perth, Australia. My father worked on the railway, and my mom for a newspaper. But my wider family were all fishermen, and I grew up on boats sailing around remote islands north of Perth.
You don’t appreciate those moments. But since I left home at 14, I’ve realized how much I miss it. Whenever I get time, I go back to the boat I have there.
It’s a nightmare here [in Bangkok]. I look at [a picture of] my boat every night, before going to bed. But too many days at sea can drive you nuts. I actually miss the rat race after a while. You need the balance.
My parents sent me to all these psychologists, psychiatrists. Every day of my life, I had headaches, was very antisocial, I drew all over my walls.
I got my first tattoo when I was 12. I had to lie about my age. I don’t know why I get them. It’s so stupid. Fucks my body up. But I don’t do any drugs, too scared. Only had my first drink when I was 30 because my fiancé forced me.
Vodka helps. It makes me realistic. And otherwise I can’t sleep. But I swim about a kilometer every day.
I’ve never read a book in my life. Fairy tales? Mum never told me any shit like that. I didn’t associate with my parents.
I didn’t want to go to school. It’s a waste of time. I know what I want to do in life.
I have to work. I can’t handle not working. The day I left school was the best day of my life.
I just went knocking on doors, at factories, showing my technical drawing file that I had from school. A guy took me in for an apprenticeship.
I worked on the mines, driving these huge cranes. I stayed in this little room, and after work, everyone would go back to the pub and drink beer, in the dessert. But I saved up. Within two months I saved up for my boat and a house.
A crane fell and crushed my hand. I told the surgeon, “I don’t care, just don’t send me back to Perth. Just fold it back, as long as I can go fishing.” But they managed to get me to a surgeon in Perth.
I started making and selling stained glass lamps at this market. The guy next to me was a Chinese acupuncturist. “You should go to China,” he kept saying. I was so scared to go anywhere out of Perth. I was really scared. Finally, I went.
I packed my suitcase with muesli bars and chips. I was so scared of the food. I went to this huge fair in Guangzhou. Went to these amazing factories. All this stuff I’d learned to do all my life, 5,000 people were making it! I loved it.
I don’t think about money, just about creating something crazy. My first business was based solely on creativity. I didn’t think about the business side of things.
I design a place solely on my heart. I have to consciously stop myself and say, “This oven has to actually work. Don’t put it here, put it there.”
I don’t care if I get copied. My places have soul, a backbone. You can’t copy that.
I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I feel I could have done so much better. I’ve seen so many amazing designers, so many amazing craftsmen and artists.
I don’t think I’m a designer. I’ve never done anything, no schooling. I see the space, and within five minutes I know how to build it. I see it to every last detail before it’s even started.
I’m making a book now, about crazy machines. That’s why I bought a loft, too, so I can fly off the top in my flying machine. I’ll bring it to my book launch. It’s a single seater, twin props, filled with helium.
I’m a bastard. I’m not a people person. I wish I was. Don’t have time for it. Talking to drunk people? I’m so over it. That’s why I love Mr. Jones at night. Sit, have a cup of tea—I enjoy intelligent conversation. I’ve had it with alcohol-fueled environments.
I don’t give a shit about running my venues. It’s an absolute nightmare. I just want to build them.
Suvarnabhumi airport’s check-in counter is my favorite place in Bangkok. I can’t stand traffic. I can’t stand the BTS. I’ve got no time. You’re stuck in your car, it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of life.
But then I go back to Perth, and I think it’s such a depressing city where you go and die. Or New York, on Sunday—they say it never sleeps—bullshit! It’s dead.
I stress out on Sundays, when [my shops are] closed. I get a bit depressed. I want everything to open again.
All my mates are having kids. Ugly wives. Tied to shit jobs because they have to work. It’s a nightmare. They’re fat, they’re bald. I don’t want to get married. Ever.
I’ve only got eight years left of severe power. I want to look back and think, I’ve done a good hard day’s work. And I’d like a bigger boat.
I suppose I should have been more of a family person. I was always on my boat for Christmas. I should probably speak more to my family.